One of the first projects that I worked on as a new public health professional at the National Association of County and City Health Officials was a public health performance standards project (interesting side note – this project has evolved over time into the current public health accreditation activity moving forward across the country). The goal of the project was to measure the performance of local and state public health agencies and local boards of health and use the results of those measures to improve public health performance nationwide. It was tedious work – developing metrics and measures takes a great deal of time and debate. But guiding our effort was the maxim “what gets measured gets done,” and for that reason we knew it was important to continue. If we didn’t know how public health agencies were doing, we couldn’t improve them or advocate for more resources to address pressing public health needs. Since then, I have heard that maxim from others, so I guess the saying has infused our public health culture. Indeed, within the Title V Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Services Block Grant, there is a lot of measurement as those of you currently finalizing your block grant applications know very, very well!
So, we know measurement is important in public health, but how is it important to leadership? That was my question when I got to Gary Burnison’s fifth absolute of leadership. As I pondered why he included “measure” as a leadership absolute, I must admit I was a bit confused. But, thinking more about it I see now where he is right. Burnison writes about measurement as a tool to monitor and evaluate performance (think performance measures, outcome measures, evaluation measures). But measuring for measurement’s sake is not what he is talking about. He writes that leaders should measure outcomes in order to truly evaluate what is working, what is not working and where there is room to change: “more important than the results are what you do with them.”
As a leadership absolute, measurement is powerful. Measures inform vision setting and decision making, two fundamental parts of leadership. Many of us use measures on a routine basis to monitor and adjust organizational strategy. Here at AMCHP, we compile a monthly dashboard of financial, policy, and programmatic measures so staff, the Executive Committee, and the Board of Directors know how we are doing. But, more importantly, as leaders we use these results to make sure we are doing the “right things right,” and adjust our work accordingly based on our measures.
Equally important to measuring organizational processes and outcomes is measuring one’s own performance as a leader. Burnison writes about the need for leaders to use measures to adjust their own behavior. “360-degree” reviews, performance reports and other data on our performance as leaders are important to shaping how we lead. Simple feedback from others is an important input as we calibrate our leadership activities and evaluate our own successes. When is the last time you got objective feedback on your performance as a leader? What did you do with it? How did you change?
Burnison urges leaders to avoid the “mirror, mirror on the wall” syndrome and use current, accurate measures to truly assess their performance, and the performance of their organizations. As an MCH leader, how do you use measurement? Are you measuring for measurement’s sake, or are you truly using results to change yourself and your organization? As Burnison states, “It’s not just the results – it’s what they say.” What are your organizational and personal measures saying about your leadership – both your opportunities and your challenges? As you reflect on this leadership absolute, take some time to think about new measures you might want to collect that could be useful to your leadership journey. Where will you get the data, and what will you do with it? Remember: what gets measured gets done!
[This is the fifth installment in a continuing series on The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison. If you would like to get your own copy of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership and follow along over the next few months, you can order it online via the AMCHP link to Amazon.com. AMCHP receives a small royalty for all orders placed via this link. The opinions of the author, and of Mike, are their own and are not the official position of AMCHP.]